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Affirmative Action Gets Win in Supreme Court

Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the University of Texas admissions program that takes account of race.

The justices voted in favor of the Texas program by a 4-3 vote, an outcome that was dramatically altered by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposed affirmative action.

The university considers race among many factors in admitting the last quarter of incoming freshmen classes. Texas fills most of the freshman class by guaranteeing admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school class.

The high court ruled in the case of Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who was denied admission to the university’s flagship campus in Austin in 2008. Fisher claimed she was rejected while African-American applicants with lower grades and test scores were admitted. The school said Fisher, who did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class, would not have been admitted with or without race as a factor. But officials did conditionally offer to allow her to transfer in as a sophomore if she maintained a 3.2 grade point average at another public college in Texas.

Instead, Fisher went to Louisiana State University, from which she graduated in 2012, and pursued her lawsuit. Fisher was recruited for the suit by Edward Blum, an opponent of racial preferences who has been remarkably successful in persuading the Supreme Court to hear cases challenging the use of race in education and politics.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the Texas plan complied with earlier court rulings allowing colleges to take account of race in pursuit of diversity on campus. “The university has thus met its burden of showing that the admissions policy it used … was narrowly tailored,” Kennedy wrote.

The court’s three more conservative justices dissented, and Justice Samuel Alito read portions of his dissent from the bench.

In a separate dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas repeated his view that the Constitution outlaws any use of race in higher education admissions.

Just seven justices participated in the decision since Scalia’s death in February. Justice Elena Kagan sat out the case because she worked on it while serving in the Justice Department.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the Univ. of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity,” said Fisher in a statement released to the Houston Chronicle. “I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action.”

Eight states prohibit the use of race in public college admissions: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.


Photo: Abigail Fisher, who challenged the use of race in college admissions, joined by lawyer Edward Blum. AP/J. Scott Applewhite